Getting A Good Webmaster For Your Author Website, by Anthony Riches
Every author needs their own website. That’s obvious enough to even the newest hand at the game. When a reader discovers either the delights of your imaginary world or the insights you have to offer on the real world, they will want to know who you are, what you stand for, how many more books you have waiting for their eager eyes, your favourite colour and the name of your pet hamster.
So, when you first succeed in getting your work out to the wider world, your publisher or agent will sooner or later announce in world weary tones that you need to have a website ready for visitors by the time your book hits the book shelves, Amazon and illegal download sites. After all, even the people who won’t pay to read your stuff will still want to know all about you, it’s a human instinct. And so you’ll start to consider what you would like your site to say about you, what images and photographs to use, whether to blog, whether you have an area for public adulation (feedback to you and me – and beware, it comes in two flavours), and so on. While most of us give a good deal of thought to what to put on our shiny new site rather fewer of us give much concern to who’s going to look after it.
Let’s get this straight: that’s the most important decision to be made. Not ‘what’ but ‘who’. When it comes to choosing your webmaster you need to be as careful as you might be in choosing a babysitter for your first born (or to whom you might lend your iPhone, if you’re one of the teenage novelists that seem to abound in my field – Henry and James, I’m talking about you!) In my view there are 3 key criteria to consider:
- Graphics skills – will their ability to deliver drop dead gorgeous visuals match your vision for the site? Ask to see samples of what they’ve done for other customers, and ask them how they generate their artwork. You don’t want a site that came out of a box, do you?
- Skill with the underlying technologies that will make your site a genuine portal for your new career – do they understand how to gather precious visitor data (and legally!), how to send out newsletters to engage your followers, and can they make users’ experiences of your site smooth and friendly? Ask for customer references, and follow them up.
- And lastly: are they happy to give you the keys for your brand new website, allowing you to carry it away to another provider (once you’ve paid for it that is) if you see fit to do so? Trust me, this is the most important criterion of them all, in the long term, unless you really want to find yourself powerless to change a site that’s sliding into obsolescence – something that happens all to quickly these days.
Why do I mention this last? Think of a webmaster. Let’s call him Darren. He’s a lovely guy with decent art capabilities and is good technically, but he used to take an age and much prodding to answer the simplest of queries. For years I tolerated the situation because, to be honest, I liked the guy and he was clearly struggling against adversity. And when I walked Hadrian’s Wall in Roman armour for a forces charity he did all the web work for nothing, being a former soldier. I’ll put up with a lot for a decent bloke in a bit of a jam. But then, about six months ago, he took a deep, deep dive and simply stopped communicating. At all. I wrote increasingly exasperated emails, sent infuriated texts, and after two months of getting nothing back I resigned myself to a new domain name and the hassle of starting all over again, damnit. A week or so later – and after one last resigned ‘see you in the next life’ text (life really can be easier once you give up hope) he made contact and handed me control of my property. Phew.
I was lucky, hugely so, and I suggest that you learn from my near miss. Don’t make the same mistake I did, from a combination of laziness and trust. Make sure that you can pick up your site and take it wherever you want, and that ability will either keep your webmaster eager to please or save your bacon if he or she ever has a meltdown or gets run over by a bus.